Katrin Alda, the young Icelandic designer who launched her eponymous footwear brand three years ago, describes the appeal of her Simon sandals (£270) in two words: “They’re sexy.” Not in the way a conventional stiletto sandal would be, but in a relaxed, more modern manner. “A delicate, strappy mid-heel flatters the foot and makes it look more feminine,” she adds, a sentiment echoed by everyone about the appearance of barely there sandals this summer.
This footwear trend was, in part, ushered in by New York-based brand The Row, which is renowned for its simple yet impeccable dresses, tailoring and accessories. Last June, when the house launched its Bare sandal with just three delicate straps, a slingback holding the foot and a finely balanced 65mm heel, it was an instant hit. “The now-signature Bare sandal sold out soon after it launched,” says Net-a-Porter global buying director Elizabeth von der Goltz. “It brings back femininity after seasons of chunkier sandals.” The style has returned this season (£650), available in black, white, saffron, brick-red and navy, all made in Italy.
The trend is also part of a broader shift towards a more bourgeois style of dressing. This chimes with the inspiration behind Aquazzura’s 60mm-heeled python-print Carolyne style (£580): an arabesque of fine straps with a faintly flared heel for stability. “The focus on elegant, midcentury style coincides with the passing of Lee Radziwill,” says creative director Edgardo Osorio. “I found myself thinking about her and Carolyn Bessette-Kennedy [who worked for Calvin Klein and became the poster-woman for minimalist style in the 1990s]. I think there’s a return to chic elegance; modern minimalism feels fresh yet timeless – whereas more complex, decorative things can age.” Other fashion-forward versions of this look include Givenchy’s black slingback (£500) with a little cone heel, the foot cradled by three carefully placed straps, and Gianvito Rossi’s 55mm Manhattan heel (£540), with one strap crossing the foot and another wider, supportive bar at the front.
Vanissa Antonious, designer for British-based brand Neous, also recently introduced fine-strapped styles with mid-heels, initially to complement eveningwear. “I love the delicate femininity [of the sandals] as a counterpoint to tuxedo looks or voluminous, oversized gowns.” The brand’s Mannia (£380) style has three narrow straps across the foot, while the Rossi (£445) has multiple strips of leather across the foot and a slingback.
The slender mid-heel is not the only option; some designers are contrasting delicate uppers with sculptural heels. Rejina Pyo’s Harley (£375) and Doris (£395) sandals have ultra-fine straps, yet boast tapered crescent and corkscrew heels. “The inspiration was to create that barely there feeling reminiscent of the 1990s,” says Pyo. Neous’s Phippium style (£525) has a wispy crossover front and a fine ankle strap, paired with a highly sculptural, polished wooden heel inspired by the shape of a body. The most flamboyant comes from Simon Porte Jacquemus, who hails from the south of France and is heavily influenced by chic Riviera style. The designer has made the mismatched heel his signature; this season’s Olbia model (£560) features one heel made of blue wood with a ribbed gold bead and the other with geometric beads and a wooden sphere.
This trend also encompasses flat, casual versions that bring retro chic to holiday dressing. Many of these have metallic finishes, raising the glamour quotient: Jimmy Choo’s Sphynx (£495) has gold rouleau straps so fine they twist into decorative knots; Saint Laurent’s Gia (£510) has sinuous gold straps that cross over at the toes and ankle; Fendi’s Colibri style (£490) mixes gold and silver leather; and Ralph Lauren’s Silena sandal (£435) with gold straps on the top of the foot. Other notable styles include Celine’s subtly studded sole (£790) with fine python straps that wrap around the ankle and Chanel’s vivid-blue patent thong style (£680), finished with a tiny chain logo. There are also dainty, strappy flats (£195) by way of new brand Studio Amelia, which has created low-heeled sandals that scarcely cover the foot. Founder Emily Inglis says she was inspired by “the lack of comfortable, beautiful shoes to suit larger feet that were of good quality and at a realistic price”. She personally tested, reshaped and re-tested every style on various foot shapes before launching the brand in May.
For the truth is, the “effortless” sandal is nothing of the sort. From young designers to more established masters of the ultra-fine strap, making the barely there sandal comfortable and supportive takes major work. “We placed the straps very carefully, with lots of tweaking to ensure each was just right for style and comfort,” says Pyo. “The prototypes also underwent rigorous stress and wear tests to make sure they were durable.” Osorio says the secret is finding a compromise between design and practicality. “The straps should look as if they lightly touch the foot, but are still comfortable.”
Sometimes, it means a redesign. Alda says she originally conceived the Simon style with two straps behind the ankle, but her manufacturer in Portugal advised that the shoe would be more stable with multiple small straps across the foot, creating a mule shape. Similarly, Neous’s product developer says the brand’s fine-strapped styles took many prototypes to perfect, relying on its experienced last-makers in Italy to test each model.
Alda’s assertion that “half a shoe’s beauty lies in its comfort” helps to explain why these styles are so alluring – as well as being a simple entrée to a new appetite for minimalism.